"It's the Veteran, not the reporter, who has given us the freedom of the press.

It's the Veteran, not the poet, who has given us the freedom of speech.

It's the Veteran, not the community organizer, who gives us the freedom to demonstrate.

It's the Veteran who salutes the flag, who serves beneath the flag, and whose coffin is draped by the flag, who allows the protester to burn the flag.''

These quotes will appear on the memorial handout for Capt.  C.A. “Pete” Tzomes (Toms), U.S. Navy (Retired).

He lived like he served, with a grace only he could muster and compassion that endeared him to the many lives he touched.

Sadly, the Centennial 7, the seven first African-American submarine commanding officers of the United States Navy, now stands at six.

Capt. C.A. “Pete” Tzomes (Toms), U.S. Navy (Retired), 74, of Milan, passed away Thursday, June 13, 2019, at University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics, Iowa City, Iowa.

Services for the history-making Naval officer are 10:30 a.m. today (Friday, June 21) at Second Baptist Church, 919 6th Ave., Rock Island, with the Rev. Joseph D. Williamson III officiating. Military honors will follow at Rock Island National Cemetery with burial at Arlington National Cemetery at a later date. Visitation is 4 to 7 p.m. today at Trimble Funeral Home at Trimble Pointe, 701 12th St., Moline. Memorials may be made to the tutoring program at Second Baptist Church.  

Born Dec. 30, 1944, in Williamsport, Pa., Capt. Tzomes dealt with segregation and discrimination growing up.  Blessed with a compassionate mother who instilled him the drive to succeed and the patience to deal with prejudices, Capt. Tzomes would — through hard work and determination — find unmatched success.

"Growing up in those days, one of our favorite sayings was, 'the South reveals what the North conceals'," Capt. Tzomes said in a 2014 Dispatch-Argus-QConline.com story, chronicling his distinguished career. "I have to give credit to my mother for teaching me some of the skill sets to deal with it."

Refusing to let his dream pass, Capt. Tzomes earned an appointment to the United States Naval Academy in 1963.  He graduated from the Academy in 1967.

Upon graduation, Capt. Tzomes would undergo nuclear power and submarine training before being assigned to the USS Will Rogers in 1969. He then served on the USS Pintado and, in 1973, was promoted to engineer officer of the USS Drum. His leadership role with the USS Drum was a challenge for Capt. Tzomes. Few in 1973 were prepared to have a person of color lead them.

"Life was hell for me," he said in the 2014 story about his life. "But, eventually, people have to accept you.''

In May of 1983, after a stint as executive officer of the USS Cavalla, Capt. Tzomes made history. He became the first African-American commanding officer of a U.S. Navy submarine, taking command of the USS Houston (SSN 713).

It was here, after some backlash from those who struggled with him in a leadership role, Capt. Tzomes said to those doubters and haters: "Don't look at my face, look at my collar.'

Calling Capt. Tzomes' career "distinguished'' would be an understatement of monumental proportions.

He also had the pleasure of being assigned as Commanding Officer, Recruit Training Command, Naval Station Great Lakes (the Navy's boot camp) from June 1990 to June 1992.

Other assignments included a Pacific Fleet Nuclear Propulsion Examining Board member, Force Operations Officer on the staff of Commander, Submarine Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet, and assistant chief of staff for Operations Inspector General at Naval Base, Charleston, S.C., where he retired in 1994. He was also very proud of the Navy's and external recognition for his achievements while serving as the director, Equal Opportunity Division, Bureau of Naval Personnel and as the personal advisor to the Chief of Naval Personnel on equal opportunity issues. He was a 1991 recipient of the Black Engineer of the Year Award for his efforts in paving the path for leading the Navy's equal opportunity programs into the 21st century during this assignment.

His military honors and decorations include the Legion of Merit (with Two Gold Stars), the Meritorious Service Medal (with Three Gold Stars), and the Navy Commendation Medal (with Two Gold Stars) as well as various unit and campaign ribbons. 

 “As a career submarine officer, I thrilled on operating independently from routine guidance and instruction,'' his obituary reads. " We were told the objectives of a mission and then were expected to use our professional skills, training, and imagination to execute that mission. All citizens of this great democracy should be mindful of exactly what individual contributions are required for maintaining our freedom. I hate to see so many lack appreciation for what our service members and their families sacrifice so the rest of the country can live in freedom and enjoy their freedom of speech.”

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